Mid June ・Location: Sannoshiseki Park, Kurihara, Miyagi Prefecture...
Admire a Classic and Heroic Dance Rumored to be a Favorite of Masamune Date, Samurai Lord of the Sendai Domain!
Michinoku Shishi Odori, or "Michinoku Deer Dance," is a traditional folk performing art originating in Ichihasara, Kurihara City, with a 400 year old tradition and history. The popular dance can actually also be found in neighboring prefectures too, notably in southern Iwate Prefecture, a former region of the Sendai Domain. The term Michinoku refers to the historical name for today's north-eastern Tohoku Region, spanning today's Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate and Aomori Prefectures.
(Fun fact: Michinoku can be considered as a similar term for the "boonies," literally translating to the "deep road" or "end of the road").
What is Shishi Odori?
Taking place every year in Kurihara City's Sanno Historic Site Park Ayame Garden —famous for its iris garden and archaeological ruins from the Jomon Period— the festival features the folkloric Shishi Odori performing art alongside a dance tournament. Dance teams from across Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures gather in Kurihara City to perform, celebrate, and compete through this unique dance.
Dance groups are comprised of 8 dancers, which is why Shishi Odori is also commonly known as "Yatsu Shika Odori" (The Dance of the Eight Deer). Each dancer wears a wooden carved mask of a deer head with real deer antlers. At their waists, they carry a drum, along with a 3.6 meter tall bamboo Sasara, an instrument used in folk songs and rural dances that was originally a brush-like cleaning ustensil for dishes. The instrument gets its name from the onomatopoeic sound of ears of rice rubbing against one another in the autumn breeze, a sound that was historically referred to as "sasara".
Date Masamune was reportedly extremely fond of Shishi Odori, so much so that he requested the dance troupes perform every year at Aoba Castle. The dancers recieved special permission for these performances along with the Date Clan's 9 Star crest. Today, in part thanks to the influence of Date Culture, the Shishi Odori performing art was a designated as one of Miyagi Prefecture's Intangible Folk Cultural Properties.
Written by Catrina Sugita
Writer & 2022 Editor-in-Chief